30 Nov 2009

And another thing - Leaf Love …

I  like walking on my own and I look all around, but rarely down.  Quite serendipitously (love that word) as I photographed a little woody glade on my Heath walk, I looked down at the carpet of leaves and saw this:

Honestly, I swear, I have not altered this photo! (Honest.)  The leaf was just there at my feet and perfectly summed up Thanksgiving Day.  Serendipitous indeed.  Had to share…

Caro x

A Walk on the Wild-ish Side …

It seems that many people in blogland were giving a nod to the American tradition of Thanksgiving last Thursday.  I spent a part of my childhood living in the USA (Florida) so it's a day that still gives me pause for thought.

I mentioned at the time that I was off for a walk in appreciation of a beautiful sunny afternoon and winter colour on Hampstead Heath.  So an hour and a half of fresh crisp air later and what have we got?  Yup. Plenty of colour still out there!

Blue sky, Yellow leaves, Purple Hebe, White Fatsia, Green Moss, Red berries:


And on the way home, growing in someone's garden, a new plant to me:


which, thanks to the December issue of 'Gardens Illustrated', I now know is Callicarpa bodinieri.
(My photo doesn't do this plant justice; the berries are a real pop of purple and the leaves a deep, glossy green.  A real treat for colour-starved eyes!)

So what am I thankful for?  Winter sunshine, gardeners who make the world a more beautiful place, the opportunity to grow veg and flowers outside my own door, good friends to share this with, living so close to one of the great London green spaces and - of course - all of my family and friends.
Hope you also had the space and time to reflect.

Caro x

26 Nov 2009

Chopping and tweaking …

Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it.  ~Author Unknown

Well, I've made a start on clearing the ivy in the long bed - five bags waiting to go into the compost maker at our local recycling centre.  (Although it doesn't look much sitting there, I'd like to point out - ahem - that those white bags are quite large - really huge, in fact.)  I paced out the task (to ease my aching back from all the bending over) and I reckon another six sessions should do it.  (On the other hand, we'd get it all done in one session if the Commuuuuuuuunity gets behind it.  Perhaps an appropriately applied welly boot would do the trick… )

On another note, anyone who's looked at these pages before might notice that I've finally put aside the time to figure out how to install a subscription feed.  Yup.  Now you can have my latest mutterings delivered to your mailbox!  (But only if you click the link in the sidebar on the left.)

Now, as I've been sitting at my computer for too long and have got a bit chilled, I'm off to look for rainbows of colour via a nice long Thanksgiving walk on Hampstead Heath, and to warm up and enjoy this beautiful, but cold, London day. 

Phase 3 of Beetroot Mania will be revealed tomorrow.  See you soon friends! 

25 Nov 2009

It's a piece of cake, really …

After quite a storm last night, the day has dawned clear and bright in London.  The Gods have been kind to us as today is earmarked for more Ivy Clearing - this time, hopefully, with a small team working together.  So before I go outside to get on with the hacking and chopping, here's phase two of Getting to Know Beetroot.

Next up in my bid to like beetroot:  Chocolate and Beetroot Cake.

Your tea, Milady, is served. 

I'm told that this is what is described in Australia as "bonzer".   So I scoured the web and found several versions and chose this one by Simon Rimmer.  Verdict: Actually, not bad.  Moist, chocolatey and not too sweet but with beetroot undertones (unsurprisingly) and incredibly easy to make. (I think I must have quite a sweet tooth, though, because somehow the chocolate hit wasn't as intense as the look of the cake promised.  Does that make sense?  Next time I'd add more chocolate.)

Edited!  Have just taken a piece round to L for a taste test.  Verdict:  "Mmm.  Mmm.  That's really nice.  No, I like that.  I think that's just right.  Is the recipe on the blog?  I'm going to make that.  What size tin did you use?"  And, actually, I enjoyed my taster piece as well.  As did my teenage son (who had two pieces yesterday.)  Because it's moist with good 'keeping' qualities, L thought it nicer than straightforward Chocolate Sponge Cake.  Wouldn't it be nice if you could all come round for a tasting! Caro @ YRG x

The original recipe came from the Good Food Channel and made an enormous cake (23cm tin) so I made a two-thirds mix (17cm tin), using 2 eggs rather than 3.  My quantities below, or go here for the original recipe.

(1)  Heat oven to 190C.

(2)  Cook and peel the beetroot. (You can have fun with this part: it can look as though you're the victim of a nasty Kitchen Accident as the juice drips!)

(3) 116g plain flour; 50g cocoa; 6g baking powder; 150g caster sugar.
      Sift all these ingredients together into a bowl.

(4)  2 large eggs; 133ml corn oil; 150g cooked beetroot 
      Place all the above in blender and whizz up together.

Woohoo!  Now that's what I call pink!

Fold (4) above into (3) above.

This looks disgusting, but don't be put off.

Put into a lined 17 or 18 cm cake tin.  (I like to keep it simple by using these from Lakeland in UK.)

Bake 30 minutes but be prepared to give it an extra 5 if the skewer doesn't come out clean.

See how I cut the liner to fit the tin better?
  1. I couldn't get Corn Oil so used Grapeseed.  Seemed to work okay.  
  2. Recipe asked for raw beetroot which I thought would be a bit crunchy in the cake so I pre-cooked by boiling, then cooled and chucked in the blender.  My logic was that the recipe wanted un-dressed beetroot rather than salad beetroot soaked with vinegar.
  3. The cake was nicest with a blob of squirty cream, which was the genius idea of my son.  (It's also nice with homemade chocolate custard but if I gave you the recipe for that, I'd be getting right off the subject of gardening, garden produce and your 5-A-Day veg!) 

See, it's quite nice in close up too!

    23 Nov 2009

    Trying to like Beetroot …

    A couple of week's ago I suffered a touch of the "blogger's black hole" (my brain got distracted by half term holidays and wouldn't produce anything worth reporting) and because of that I don't think that I mentioned our beetroot had finally matured into an edible state.  There it is, in the photo above.  Quite respectable, don't you think?

    Before the weekend, I retrieved some of our beetroot from the Veg Patch.  I'm trying to overcome my dislike of beetroot by trying the home-grown variety in a number of guises.  (After all that thinning and watering and nurturing, I have to at least try.)

    First up:  Cooked Beetroot.

    Wash and chop leaves off to 3 cm, leave the roots intact (stops the colour bleeding out), then put in a pan of cold water and bring to the boil.

    Simmer 30 to 40 minutes. Pull one out to test - they're done when they peel easily.

    Drain and cool.  (Oops, 'scuse fingers!)

    Peel and slice.

    So, cooked by boiling, then cooled, peeled and tasted (no dressing).
    Verdict: Not bad, but not hankering for seconds; quite nice eaten warm.  Fabulous looking.

    P.S.  I also tried them par-boiled and then oven-roasted with parsnips, butternut squash, sweet potato and Vivaldi potatoes.  Verdict: other veg - yummy;  beetroot - yeeuch!

    19 Nov 2009

    Looking around …

    Recently I've been giving some thought to how helpful it would be to have a little Bay tree in our (next year's, expanded) herb patch and then I heard that there already was one growing in the York Rise gardens. (What bliss!) This is one of the greatest joys of the gardens here - the legacy of 70 years of tenant gardeners pottering around, popping plants in here and there as the fancy took them, so you never know what you might come across these days when you really look around.

    So, when Tuesday dawned crisp, bright and sunny (albeit very blustery - tralala, as if I'd care!), this was my chance for a spot of looking around.  I'd actually gone out to make a start on clearing the ivy from the area we want to plant our fruit trees in, and there were plenty of surprises to be found along that route as well. I had such a lovely day, I thought I'd share.  (It's not all about growing veg, y'know!)

    Walking towards the Veg Patch, autumn leaves growing across the door of the old Gardeners' Shed catch my eye …

    Venturing into the front gardens, I discover the not-so-little Bay tree …

    Nearby, a very useful Rosemary bush (Have you tried Potato and Rosemary Pizza?)

    And this rose - tipping slightly into decay, but so so beautiful …

    Back to the Task of the Day and before I start clearing I find a Strange Creature (who will become the Guardian of the Veg Patch) …

    Some letter tiles from a child's game, discarded (with the hope of never being found again?) but revealed when colder months steal the vegetation away - and rearranged with the message for my day …

    And, finally, a start was made on clearing the Ivy.  Three bags later and I realise I have a long, long way to go …

    Until next time, my friends, enjoy the fruits of your labours!

    16 Nov 2009

    Foraging for autumn flowers…

    There's something deeply comforting about being indoors, warm and cosy, when the wind is howling outside and the rain batters against the windows, don't you find?   As a result, I've had a very enjoyable weekend.  (That, and the fact that I don't have a shed for the roof to blow off.)  We've had some extremely variable weather over the last couple of days - in common with the rest of the UK - but I managed to get out for a bracing walk and foraged for these beautiful hydrangea heads (actually, growing by one of our flats so not too much foraging!) 

    I was inspired to think again about hydrangeas as a cut flower after being given a bunch of flowers used as a table decoration at a wedding reception.  This posy was full of rich plums, purples, aubergines and greens, being made up of hydrangeas, berries and another plant which I can't identify: 

    This, by the way, is the dried up version. (It's stayed on my kitchen windowsill for at least two months while I've pondered this puzzle!)  The plant also crept into an earlier photo when I posted a recipe for custard tarts:

    So, gardening friends: If you know what this is (and I'm positive there's a fair few of you who do), please please put me out of my anguish!  (So far I'm thinking fennel or angelica but I'm probably way off the mark.) 

    13 Nov 2009

    It's a Bug's Life…

    (Harlequin Ladybird:  Harmonia axyridis succinea)

    There's been a lot of fuss over the summer about ladybirds - both our native UK ladybirds (Coccinellids) and the Harlequin ladybirds (Harmonia axyridis) aka Multicoloured Asian Ladybirds.  The Harleys are causing concern over here because they're born survivors and will eat the eggs of UK ladybirds and butterflies when hungry - but their first choice from the menu is aphids. 

    (A few more Harlequin ladybirds caught on camera.)

    I've been seeing quite a few Harleys in the last few weeks (one had managed to get through my third floor windows!) - and I wondered, "Where do ladybirds go in winter?" (if not to my kitchen).

    A tiny bit of googling reveals that they hibernate.  (I know, I should have guessed.)  Their food supply dries up with the colder November temperatures and they start to look for somewhere to bed down, preferably together, sometimes hundreds together!  If you find any indoors, it's kindest to put them back outside as the warmth indoors will wake them up too early (normally they sleep until March) and they'll starve for lack of food (they search out early aphids prior to mating).  They like to shelter under a bit of tree bark or a few leaves, as long as it's frost free and where they're less likely to be attacked by predators (usually sparrows).

    Or, using only two recycled items, you can make a lovely little Spotty Lodgers Hotel.  One which presumably sparrows can't get in to.  Find instructions here on the UK Safari website.   You only need an empty 2 litre drinks bottle and a piece of corrugated cardboard to roll up loosely inside it.  Easy Peasy.  (Here's a sneak preview, click link above for full instructions.)

    But, if you do this, please don't put our natural ladybirds in with the Harleys.  It could get nasty.   And don't forget, as you're (hopefully) depriving the food chain of a few ladybirds, it's helpful to put out some sunflower seeds or millet in a feeder for the sparrows.  (Using another cleaned, empty water bottle, the RSPB has an instructable for making a Recycled Bird Feeder here.)

    11 Nov 2009

    Yesterday was a very good day …

    It's a strange old thing, this blogging lark, isn't it?  One minute I'm feeling that there's nothing to tell, then suddenly I find there's almost too much to fit into one post.  So here are three lovely things that happened yesterday:

    1.  I (think I might just have) saved a bumblebee.  As I left home,  I noticed a large, very still, bumble bee on an expanse of cold concrete path outside the door.  It's not often you get to see one of these beauties close up and, as I bent down for a closer look, one of it's legs stretched. So, not dead but probably too tired and cold to move to safety.  Having recently been prompted to read up about bee hotels, I scooped it up (on my shopping list as it was probably not too tired to sting me!) and took it to some sheltered ground level Knotweed stems, where it perked up a bit, and I left some freshly picked flowers within easy reach so it could get to the nectar.  (That may have been calling to my inner Girl Guide a bit, but it satisfied my need to nurture.)  Any hoo, the bee was not to be seen when I returned, so I like to think it made it to underground Bee Safety.

    2.  Passing through a local Garden Centre (oh, alright then… Homebase), among all the almost empty gardening shelves was a box containing winter hardy Onion Sets…  (slaps forehead) a veg which I'd completely forgotten about!  (And they're a staple of my shopping list.)   One purchase later, I consider this a very serendipitous encounter indeed.

    3.  Returning home to post my October photo collage, I notice a comment from a lovely fellow gardener, Jo at The Good Life, who has nominated my little bloggy-woggy for an award.  Gosh.  I'm totally awed and honoured.  So, thank you - and yes, I'm very, very pleased to accept.  (It may take me a while to pass the award on, in the time honoured tradition, as I first have to check out my fellow nominees, but I'll do my best.)

    So, now that I have proof that people out there are reading my scribblings,  to celebrate, I think it's time for a piece of this…

    10 Nov 2009

    (Rather Belatedly) my October photo review …

    Over the last few days, skies over the Veg Patch have been leaden, trees bare and the air decidedly damp, cold and unwelcoming. (I catch myself singing "California Dreamin'" quite a lot.)  However, I'm quite sure the next sunny but crisp day is just around the corner so, to cheer up an indoors moment, I've put together a little collage of my photos taken in or near the Veg Patch in October.

    First up is our (still) wondrously lush parsley, strangely beautiful seed heads appearing in the borders, mushrooms sprouting up in the grass (a sign of damper days?), the ripening of L's lovely pumpkin (an experimental seed shoved into the ground!), lots (and still lots) of Vinca clearing to be done, brilliant late season flowers, beetroot at last (hooray!) and, finally, watching the leaves changing to their autumn colours in a burst of late season sunshine.

    Additionally, the first of our fruit trees arrived (just waiting for the raspberry canes now), more veg has been planted for the Winter - am I alone in being totally thrilled when the seedlings appear? - and there's still an awful lot to be done before spring (which sounds pessimistic, but absolutely isn't).

    P.S.  By the way, I make no claims to being any kind of photographer - just thought I'd say it first before anyone else does! - but it makes me happy to look back at my snaps, so you'll have to excuse this moment of indulgence. 

    6 Nov 2009

    Goodbye Autumn, Hellooo Winter!

     Not that I generally give too much thought to such things, but today is traditionally the Last Day of Autumn as we are at the midpoint between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice.  And, no, I didn't just make that up - I read it on the Dorset Cereals website and I believe them.  Yes I do.

    Having watched the leaves drifting steadily off the trees in the chill breezes of last week, this is a timely reminder to get out this weekend for a good long leaf-kicking walk, find some conkers and celebrate what little good weather we may have left.

    We're very lucky in that we're minutes away from Hampstead Heath (plenty of conkers over there!) but for inspiration further afield, have a look at 'Catching the Colours of Autumn' from the Telegraph online - it's a tiny gallery, just 12 beautiful photos, of autumn colour the world over.  Personally, I quite fancy Kew Gardens (in West London) where, until December 6th, they have an 18 metre high walkway where you can view the treetop transformations in the Gardens.  Catch it while you can!

    Have a great weekend everyone - I'll be gathering in any beetroot and planting broad beans…  and, with a bit of weather luck, having a walk on the Heath.
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